Sir James Guthrie's To Pastures New

Just to show how unprejudiced we be, LeithTonight paid a visit to Glasgow for the stunning ‘Glasgow Boys’ exhibition.

There’s not much time left to see it: it finishes on 27th September but it is worth the trip.

Why?  Well, it’s always nice to drive through to cheery Glasgow with the perennial west coast rain bouncing off yer windscreen.

2ndly, it’s always good, aesthetically-speaking, to get a grip on one’s own cultural and artistic national heritage.

Willie, Old Wurthy - James Guthrie

And 3rdly, the blond and I were gagging for soup but couldn’t take the queue outside the Kelvingrove Museum cafe so we dived into an incredible wee bistro right in front of the entrance.

The Pelican Cafe had only been open 15 days.  With trendy booths, a family-friendly atmosphere & fresh paint on the walls, it had already developed that most prized and rarely achieved great smell that comes from a great kitchen.

The Pelican offers such sumptualities as Ham hock & Fois Gras with home-made piccalilli, Chorizo & Leek Soup, Salmon, Crab and a veritable cornucopia of fine dining.  Two starters and two mains came to an astonishing £20 quid.

Add £7 for the fabby glasses of chilled white wine and you have two uber-sated quines-wot-lunch with only one hour to race round the exhibition before it closes, agh!

A real find.  Do go, and say LeithTonight says hi.

The Masterclass

Guthrie, A Hind's Daughter

The Glasgow Boys consist of 19 blokes and one female, Bessie MacNicol, who painted around 1870 – 1910.  Most of them were trained in, or had strong ties to the city of Glasgow.  They were passionate about realism and naturalism and were united by a hatred of the snobby Edinburgh-oriented Scottish art establishment.

The main boys consisted of Joseph CrawhallThomas Corson MortonThomas Millie DowSir James Guthrie and James Paterson and were friends who hung out and were inspired by each other. Initially, they painted in rural areas around France and the East coast of Scotland (because of the light) like Cockburnspath.

Later, they searched for the exotic in Japan and Spain, and more middle class subjects in the West coast in order to satisfy their burgeoning middle class consumers and to shift more product.

Early period

Sir John Lavery's The Goose Girls

The Glasgow Boys’ imagination was caught by cabbages.  Lots of cabbages.  They didn’t stop at cabbages.  They did cabbage patches and cabbage cutters.  All with a prosaic eye towards the realism of Scottish rural life.

Among the cabbages, you can find cottages, peasants, carpenters, gamekeeper’s daughters, high horizons with dominant figures, clogs, orchards, woodland, potato planting, hedgecutters, women that sewed (‘sewers’ just doesn’t seem right), washer women, cattle, goatherds, influences of stained glass, Glasgow International Exhibition 1888 and a whole lorra geese.

Later period

Henry and Hornel, The Druids Bringing in the Mistletoe (1890)

Pattern and design became more important than detail.  Paintings became more impressionistic with a strong influence from the frozen movement of the new photography.

While the early period had been about the real Scotland, the later period saw the artists with families to feed and bills to pay.  They catered more to the growing middle classes in Helensburgh, Cathcart and Paisley (honestly, that’s what it said on the wa’!)  Sir William Burrell, the art impressario of the time, even funded Henry and Hornel’s trips to the far east to capture the market in ‘the exotic’.

Horizons and perspective were out.  Claustrophic subjects from literature, folklore, Japan and Spain were in.

Stuart Park's Roses

Sunshine, picnics, boating, tennis, cycling, Stirling railway station, pastels, the Pascha, Japanese ladies and landscapes with a slash of exotic red, the Middle East, blottesque and the birth of those quaint, chintzy rabbits, donkeys, pigeons, aviaries and roses you can see all over John Lewis and other department stores of that ilk.

At the end of their careers, some of the boys became part of the establishment, some worked in foreign fields, many influenced the Scottish artists of the future, but as Rob MaCauley Stevenson said:

“At heart, we were just the boys.”

George Henry's Japanese Lady with a Fan

Prices are £5 and £3 concessions and it should take about 3 hours to go round the 140 paintings lovingly displayed at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Although at a canter, it can be done in one.

© Fin Wycherley

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know.

Related Articles

  • The Scotsman review
  • Times Educational Supplement review
  • The Herald review
  • The Glasgow Boys Beat Van Gogh for Visitors at Kelvingrove, The Herald, Sun 19th Sept 2010
  1. Kim Hartley says:

    The heart felt warnings from the receptionist and ticket desk women added to the urgency of seeing this soon to close exhbition. The dusty light of the paintings provide the same mesmeric response in me as phosphoresence of any west coast summer sea. I loved it even though later members of the gang seemed to be more of the “paint what you are paid for” mentality. Still created great work. What, i wonder, would people pay to be painted these days?

    I can vouch for the cabbages (“the brasicus boys”) – made real by a field bursting green, purple, blue with them which I saw a week or so later off the A1 as you turn in to Scateraw. Any budding new Glasgow youths should pay a visit.

    Delighted to chauffuer Leith Tonight presenters to any other art events if they are all as good as this – and the resulting article as informative. Pelican will be a hard act to follow though.

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